Mofolusade Sonaike is an entrepreneur whose business is making it easy for Nigerians to get the right gifts when they need them. Nothing about her degree in Chemical Engineering and her background in Information Technology could have suggested that she would, one day, set up such a unique and fascinating business as Trezorlandia. She talks to Connect Nigeria about her journey to entrepreneurship and her gift consulting business.
CN: Tell us a bit about your professional background
MS: My degree from the University of Lagos says I am a Chemical Engineer, but it ends there, I didn’t get the memo on what I was to do with that (laughs). I graduated, clueless and unsure what I wanted to do with myself. In my final year though, I worked with some brilliant guys on an interactive CD project for my class and this got me fascinated with IT, so I decided to pursue that line.
My first job was with Tara Systems Limited, where I was a help desk and support staff. Two years after, I moved on to First City Monument Bank (FCMB) as an IT staff as well, where I worked as a network support engineer and then was assigned to support the manager of the stock broking software of the CSL arm. A few years down the line, I started feeling boxed in and stagnated (I know, I am restless!), besides I didn’t have a life and I hated that. I heard about the Lagos Business School of the Pan Atlantic University and decided to apply. I got admitted and gleefully resigned my appointment with FCMB.
The MBA experience was one of the best things that ever happened to me. It opened up my mind and helped me develop a new set of life skills. I got recruited from LBS to work as a business analyst for the CEO of Dangote Cement at the time, Tony Hadley. After a year, I was moved to Dancom Technologies as a service management officer. I worked there till 2010 when I decided to exit the corporate world to follow my passion.
CN: What is the story behind Trezorlandia and what inspired the name?
MS: Trezorlandia was born from Treasure-land. I had an idea to help people get gifts or give gifts that they would treasure, hence the pay-off line “gifts to treasure”. At the point of registration, of course Treasureland was not available – I mean, what was I thinking! It’s such a typical name. Lol!
Anyway, so I got talking with a friend of mine, Utibe Nkanga, let me brag a bit here, please! Utibe is somewhat a wonder woman, she has two kids but you’ll never know, she’s a biker, she does carpentry as a hobby and she speaks like four languages, fluently! Gosh! Okay, enough with the bragging. So she suggested I do a combination of languages, we translated Treasure to Trezor (French) and then we got Trezor-land. It didn’t sound right still, till we stretched it a bit and formed Trezorlandia! It was a Eureka moment. I felt the name to my very bones.
CN: What exactly are the services your business offers?
MS: We recommend (this is the consulting part), source for (Procurement), package and deliver gifts and gift solutions for individuals, businesses and events.
Simply put, we are your gift connoisseurs. We have a handle on twitter @asktrezorlandia, dedicated to giving out gift ideas. Next time you need a gift, don’t sweat just asktrezorlandia and this is a free service.
CN: How did you raise capital for the business?
MS: BOOTSTRAPPING!!! I had to scream that (laughs) but seriously, I have a partner who supports with finances when she can and I have had great support from family and friends.
What has kept me going is the fact that I applied the lean start-up approach with the business from the outset. I operate a virtual office and where I can; I barter rather than exchange cash. I have also maintained a good relationship with most of my suppliers over the years, so we have credit arrangements.
CN: What were your biggest challenges starting out?
MS: I think the biggest challenge was making the decision and then staying motivated. I read something somewhere recently – If you think you can, you can, If you think you can’t, you can’t, either way, you are right! I have invested a lot of time and resource in personal development and motivation, because without this, no one can survive as an entrepreneur anywhere.
That said, I have had to deal with the same challenges most other businesses starting out face. Top on the list being, attracting and retaining talent with limited resources, deciding on the right pricing model (we are all in this for profit, at the end of the day), minimizing cost of logistics and running a home office effectively. For the first few months after resigning, my friends and family thought I was just sitting at home lazing about and yes, there was the temptation. I had to discipline myself over time to get work done.
CN: What role does the internet play in growing your business?
MS: Oh boy! I must say, God bless the day the internet was conceived and created. I was able to define what exactly my business was through internet research. My whole business started over the phone and through a Facebook page. It didn’t cost me more than my internet subscription and a laptop.
At every stage in the business, most of the information and resources I need, I have been able to access for free through the internet. I have gained access to communities and networks that have increased my capacity personally and as a business.
When I was starting out, even with my MBA background I still groped in the dark a bit until I stumbled on the SMEtoolkit, a great online repository for everything and anything related to starting up and running a business.
CN: How would you rate the customer satisfaction level?
MS: The response has been great. I have many clients today who are Trezorlandia’s ambassadors. This is not to say however that we have not made mistakes, matter of fact, we have made many and there are some clients we lost along the way. What we have imbibed as a culture, is to take feedback, process it and improve on our services continuously.
One of our core values is service with a smile; we are happy to go over and beyond what is expected to make our customers happy. We are definitely not where we want to be, but we are not where we were two years ago. On a scale of 1 to 10, I’ll say we are at 6.
CN: What is your unique selling point and why should Nigerians choose Trezorlandia over competitors?
MS: With Trezorlandia, it goes way beyond the gift, we provide an experience. It’s ingrained in our culture and mission which is to nurture relationships through the creation of unforgettable memories using gifts, unique experiences and exceptional service!
CN: What do you consider to be the best career decision you have ever made?
MS: It is easily the decision to leave banking to go and do my MBA. I can’t imagine if I had allowed fear to keep me locked down. At the time, I wasn’t even thinking of being an entrepreneur. I just wanted a change in career and salary.
We even had an elective in Entrepreneurship in our second year and I didn’t take it because it was so much work! (laughs) Look at me now.
CN: Which books have changed your life?
MS: I must confess; I was never that much of a reader, until I picked up a Francine Rivers novel a few years ago! I took out my meager salary then and bought all of her books, and I mean all! She is such an amazing writer. She made me love reading. It opens up your mind and builds your ability to visualize things.
I recently went through a mentoring program with IBM and my assigned mentor, Mr. Weyinmi Egbe made me read Malcolm Gladwell’s The Outliers and Chris Widener’s The Art of Influence. I read both books twice over!
Nowadays, I am more of an online reader; I read everything and anything on LinkedIn, Twitter, Google Plus and Facebook. You’d be surprised the fantastic insights you get from the articles people post. They are usually short and practical; works for me.
CN: What kinds of gifts do you like to receive?
MS: I know this may sound like a cliché but still, it’s not so much the gift, but the thought that goes into it. I like to get something that says, “Oh, I thought about you”. It could be a cute key ring, a charmed bracelet or a treat. Right now, I’ll be happy to get the DVD and book set of “Secret”! Hint Hint. Heheee
CN: What is your long-term vision for Trezorlandia?
MS: From day one, all I have wanted was to build a brand so strong that Nigerians everywhere will be proud of. Brand leadership is a longer route to take, but it’ll guarantee a business that would outlive you. I see a Trezorlandia that will become synonymous to gifts and gifting!
CN: What tips or advice can you share with other Nigerian mumpreneurs?
MS: I am going to draw my inspiration from my leading song of the moment;
“I used to bite my tongue and hold my breath
Scared to rock the boat and make a mess
So I sat quietly, agreed politely
I guess that I forgot I had a choice
I let you push me past the breaking point
I stood for nothing, so I fell for everything.”
This is Katy Perry’s Roar. Every single line of that song speaks to me. The summary of that song is you have a choice! Don’t be scared to rock the boat and live your life. Stand for something.
LIVE, LOVE, LEARN…
Twitter @trezorlandia and @sonaike